Is the idea of objective knowledge sexist? Is there a “woman’s way of knowing”?

September 28, 2016 • 10:30 am

It’s unbelievable to any rational person—but not those who have read postmodern philosophy or discourse—that anyone can deny there’s an objective reality in the Universe, that we can know about it through science, and claim as well that science is merely a “social construction”. These misguided people argue not only that there is no objective reality, but that attempts to find and teach it are sexist: that such endeavors are masculine ones, and that the methods of science themselves make the discipline sexist and patriarchal.

Those who make this claim, as does Laura Parson in a paper in The Qualitative Report (reference and free link below), advocate a brand of “feminist science” that is more cooperative and less competitive. Well, that’s a suggestion worth considering, as is the idea that we need to make science more welcoming to women. But along with this goes the notion that there really isn’t any objective truth to be found: that science is, in the end, like lit-crit, a farrago of competing claims that can’t be adjudicated. Let a thousand truths blossom! They’re all true in their own way.

Parson also makes the claim that there are female “ways of knowing” that differ from male ways of knowing, implicitly arguing, as did Evelyn Fox Keller in her biography of geneticist Barbara McClintock, that women can have a “feeling for the organism” that differs from the scientific behavior of males. This is a claim that men, by their very nature, are incapable of finding some truths about nature accessible to women.

Parson is a doctoral candidate in the “teaching and learning department” in the University of North Dakota’s higher education concentration.  And, it seems, she’s drunk the “no objective truth” Kool-Aid in her attempt to ferret out misogyny in the syllabi of STEM courses. Like many of these feminist-imbued analyses, like ones I’ve posted about glaciology or Pilates, Parson’s study masquerades as an objective attempt to learn something, but is really an ideologically-freighted exercise in confirmation bias, for she already knows what she wants to find: male views conditioning the way science is done. Her paper centers on the language in syllabi of STEM courses. You can see the confirmation bias in the abstract of her paper. Here’s an excerpt:

This study explored the gendered nature of STEM higher education institution through a feminist critical discourse analysis of STEM course syllabi from a Midwest research university. I explored STEM syllabi to understand how linguistic features such as stance and interdiscursivity are used in the syllabus and how language and discourses used in the syllabus replicate the masculine nature of STEM education.

And of course she finds what she wants—the “understanding” that she assumed she’d get before she started:

Findings suggest that the discourses identified in the syllabi reinforce traditional STEM academic roles, and that power and gender in the STEM syllabi are revealed through exploration of the themes of knowledge, learning, and the teaching and learning environment created by the language used in the syllabus.

You can read the methods yourself, but they involve poring through a total of—get this—eight syllabi from college STEM courses after 2010: courses in math, chemistry, biology, physics, and geology. Parson was looking for evidence of toxic patriarchal infusion into the course syllabi. To do this, she examined “modal verbs,” pronouns, and “interdiscursivity” (parts of the syllabi that connect to other aspects of culture and society).

She didn’t find overt sexism in the syllabi, and one senses her disappointment at this. But she still found a marginalization of women in the pronouns and language used in the eight syllabi, as well as in the fallacious idea that there is objective knowledge:

Initial exploration of the STEM syllabi in this study did not reveal overt references to gender, such as through the use of gendered pronouns. However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women. First, the STEM syllabi explored in this analysis promoted the male-biased STEM institution by reinforcing views of knowledge as static and unchanging, as it is traditionally considered to be in science, which is a masculine concept of knowledge (Mayberry & Rose, 1999).

. . . In response to research question three, gender is not explicitly referenced within this corpus but the masculine or male-biased views of knowledge, learning and teaching that are seen in the STEM education institution are reinforced in the syllabus. Throughout the syllabi, knowledge is represented as static and unchanging, with some nods to collaborative and active learning to encourage students to acquire course content. Language used in the syllabi Laura Parson 114 reinforces the unfriendly and difficult nature of STEM courses, and STEM teaching is framed as the instructor’s role to deposit static knowledge into students. In those ways, the syllabi replicate the gendered STEM education institution and are gendered to the disadvantage of women.

So it’s not just objective knowledge that is masculine, but static knowledge, the view that what one finds in science is writ in stone. But that, of course, is bogus. Not only does Parson give no evidence that scientists as a whole, much less male ones, see scientific knowledge as unchanging, but ignores the many times that male scientists have not only admitted the provisional nature of scientific “truth”, but changed what was considered to be firm knowledge, like the idea that continents didn’t move or that, in the late 1800s, we’d pretty much learned everything we could about physics.

Now Parson seems to think that conveying a body of knowledge, as is common practice in STEM courses, means that knowledge must be unchanging, but she gives no evidence for that.  She concentrates instead on the “chilly classroom atmosphere”, which is promulgated not just by the idea of objective knowledge, but by things like emphasis on course prerequisites, the authoritarianism of course instructors, competitive practices like grading, and so on. The “chilly” atmosphere these things create, argues Parson, marginalizes both women minorities. Here’s one example of academic dry ice (Parson’s words in plain type, syllabus text in italics and quotes):

Also reinforcing the difficulty of the courses was the treatment of prerequisites as skills or topics that the instructor would not have time to cover in the course.

“Good algebra and trig skills are essential if you expect to be successful in this course. In addition, you are expected to have sufficiently mastered the material in Calculus I to be able to use it when needed. We will not have time in this class to devote to prerequisite materials (Lower level math).”

Instead of only listing prerequisite courses, these syllabi included prerequisite knowledge and skills, creating an even more intimidating view of the course. That language implied that not only would students be held to difficult high standards, but also that there was also a base of knowledge that was required to be successful in the course. While it is not unrealistic to include prerequisites in a syllabus, the language used to discuss the prerequisites indicated that students who had not learned or did not remember that knowledge would be unsuccessful because there was not support within the course or from the instructor. The language used in this corpus of syllabi created an impression of extremely difficult courses, which contributes to the chilly climate in STEM courses, and would be prohibitive for those not confident in those areas, such as women and minorities.

Lordy! If that kind of stuff is “chilling”, then the students need to chill out. Is there something wrong with holding students to high standards? Must everyone get prizes? In reality, such instructions tell the students what they need to have under their belts before taking a class. The presumption that this is somehow racist or sexist is completely bogus. Parson is simply sniffing as hard as she can to catch the scent of anything that could support her preconceived thesis.

I won’t go on further, except to say that Parson found what she was determined to find:

Although the corpus of syllabi explored was small, the findings from this exploration support the view of STEM courses as chilly. This suggests that there is an opportunity for STEM courses to reduce the perception of courses as difficult and unfriendly through language use in the syllabi, and also as a guide for how to use less competitive teaching methods and grading profiles that could improve the experience of female students.

Let’s ask a few questions:

  • Is there objective knowledge about the world, or is everything equally “true”? Of course there’s objective knowledge, for if there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to make predictions that worked, cure diseases, or achieve any progress, practical or otherwise. Western medicine is effective; spiritual medicine is not. If you have an infection, antibiotics will more than likely cure it; a shaman will not. We can put space probes on small comets using the laws of physics and advances in technology; intuition will not succeed here. Not all “truths” are equal.
  • Are there special “women’s ways of knowing”? I’ve read a fair amount of feminist literature claiming that women’s special sensitivities and interests give them insights into science that men can’t access as easily. I have not been convinced, for the methods of science that have evolved over centuries, it seems, are not tied to whether or not you have a Y chromosome. Yes, for years men dominated science, something that is now changingfor the better, but I haven’t seen women who have achieved scientific fame having done so using practices any different from those used by successful male scientists. (Of course, feminists could argue that those women were forced to adopt male methods of doing science in order to “join the club”.)

Some counterarguments are presented in an earlier paper by Jill Bowling and Brian Martin, “Science: a masculine disorder?” (answer: yes) published in Science and Public Policy in 1985 (reference and free download below). Bowling and Martin claim that science, by its multiply hierarchical claims about the structure of nature, evinces a masculine bias. Here are their examples:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-9-56-36-am screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-9-56-42-am

I don’t see these things as reflecting implicit sexism, but of course I’m a male.

Let me add that the idea that there are special “women’s ways of knowing” carries with it the claim that women’s brains operate in ways different from men’s. That, I thought, was anathema to those feminists who claim there are no biological differences between men and women. Now one can admit biological differences without admitting evolutionarily-based genetic differences (differences could be due to socialization), but one has to admit some sort of difference. I happen to think that there are evolutionarily based differences in behavior between men and women—mostly in sexual behavior—but I’m not convinced that there are different ways of thinking about science that should be both recognized and accommodated. I believe there are “ways of feeling” that differ between the sexes, and that some of that is due to evolution, but I am not convinced there are different “ways of knowing.” Finally:

  • Are there scientific practices, such as these syllabi, that discourage women from entering STEM professions? Several studies have shown bias against women in science; I’ve heard it myself from men when women weren’t listening, and I’ve seen it in my classroom, where, in discussions, men tend to talk over women, interrupt them more frequently, and even get the credit for their ideas. This kind of stuff can clearly make women feel that they’re not welcome, and these practices must be stopped. But let’s find the discrimination where it really is, instead of writing tedious and misguided papers about the language in syllabi.

h/t: Cindy


L. Parson. 2016. Are STEM syllabi gendered? A feminist critical discourse analysis. The Qualitative Report 21:102-116.

Bowling, Jill, and B. Martin. 1985.  Science: a masculine disorder. Science and Public Policy 12: 308-316.

139 thoughts on “Is the idea of objective knowledge sexist? Is there a “woman’s way of knowing”?

    1. The authors:

      LISA JORDAN POWELL is a postdoctoral fellow appointed jointly in the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada; and the Department of Geography at the University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC, V2S 7M7, Canada.

      ELIZABETH S. D. ENGELHARDT is the John Shelton Reed Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies in the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599–3520.

      These are serious academic institutions, it’s not some crazy creationist think-tank we’re talking about

      1. It’s troubling, isn’t it? My field of study in college was in the humanities, which means I got an awful lot of POMO stuff thrown at me in lieu of actual information or instruction. I’ve read in a few places that postmodernism is falling out of favor in academia to which I say, fall faster, please! At best, it’s mostly fruitless nonsense. At worst, it’s poison to critical thought and a cancer to science.

      2. I look at it as an excess of virtue signalling. SJWs/regressives etc keep having to one up one another in order to prove how much more virtuous they are than everyone else. Over the years, it becomes progressively more absurd. They keep having to find new things to be upset about. Case in point, the movie “The Magnificent Seven’, with a *very* diverse cast, is being portrayed as racist because apparently the *black* lead was not subjected to racism in the movie!! FFS

        A few years ago, when Michelle Bachmann was in ascendence, I remember having a chat with a friend about this very subject. I consider social conservatives to also be SJWs. Right wingers can also be social crusaders – they too want to force their authoritarian utopia on the rest of us.

        Anyhoo, my friend and I noticed that the rhetoric involving abortion kept on getting more extreme: “rape babies are a gift!” – “dying in childbirth is a gift” and on and on, to the point of inhuman absurdity. Regressive leftists are following the same pattern – constantly one-upping one another. Meanwhile, ISIS is one-upping the Taliban with their commitment to ‘social justice’…

        1. To add to this, Somer made a comment about how hijabi/FGM etc should not be normalized in secular societies, as women who fail to meet these standards of modesty will be slut-shamed.

          Virtue signalling is correlated with social status. The more virtuous you are, the higher your social status, so it becomes an arms race to prove who is the most virtuous, with the non-virtuous suffering punishment at the hands of the morally superior.

          I have finally started using twitter, and the other day I came across a tweet wherein one Muslim girl was shaming another for not being ‘hijabi’ enough.

  1. Reading between the lines, I’d guess Parson flunked out of her math and science classes, not to mention introductory logic.

    1. Modus tollens is a product of the oppressive heteropatriarchal cicnormativegenderist hegemonic allokyriarchy designed to keep women in a subordinate and submissive role.

      According to female ways of knowinging, affirming the consequent is a legitimate logical construction.

  2. Aren’t you getting a little too upset about a silly paper by a graduate student in education at the University of North Dakota? Does this really represent conventional wisdom among feminist academics?

    1. No, it’s a common theme in feminist critiques of science going back several decades. It has roots in phenomenology and post-structuralist philosophy; look up “phallogocentrism” and it’s cousins. The idea is that logic, reason and objective thinking are “male” methods of discourse which hold undeserved privelege. This kind of critique is thankfully less prevalent than it used to be, but I still see it on a regular basis in academic research proposals.

      1. Well, there is not one logical system; there are many. AFAIK nobody is stopping feminist logicians or philosophers more generally from coming up with a new one.

        1. Deconstructionist philosophy isn’t interested in producing a new logical system. It’s mostly interested in critiquing and rejecting things, not replacing them. They are not trying to be constructive after all.

          1. I agree. I was being somewhat tongue in cheek, as I don’t expect such studies to produce actual working systems of knowledge. But I think its a reasonable way to show the empress has no clothes; when someone complains about male logic, point out that they can invent a female logic system any time they want…so what’s stopping them?

        2. There are arbitrarily many logical systems; in fact the ASL journals seem to publish about one per issue.

          Anyway, none have as wide acceptance as so-called “classical” logic, and none of them are in any way feminine (or masculine).

          1. Right—and I would suggest the little book ($12 right now from Princeton Press if library copy unavailable) by John Burgess entitled “Philosophical Logic”, at least for people with some background in doing symbolic disciplines (math, of course, plus CS, physics and other ‘sort-of-hard’ science, including increasing parts of biology):

            Burgess has a very healthy view, gives a quick first chapter on classical (basically 1st order)logic, puts modal logic in it’s proper place by starting with temporal logic, doesn’t mind calling nonsense, much from the Australian school of dimwit philosophers (propositions both true and false!) for what it is, and ends with a good description of the intuituionists’ accomplishments.

            It is interesting how the dimwit philosophers always discuss some dimwit logics in the informal language of everybody else—that which is formalized as classical logic and extensions, not alternatives.

            And so-called quantum logic is long dead, so far as any serious discussion of micro-physics is concerned.

            Pardon my knee-jerk need to pontificate, as soon as this topic comes up!

            Unrelated, I do wish some distinction were made in language between objective truth versus objective knowledge, and not just by the nonsensical papers referred to. I suppose the latter is just short for ‘knowledge of objective truth’.

          2. Okay, but unfortunately the dimwit class in my mind includes Graham Priest–see on p. 113 of Burgess the brief and acerbic comments on dialethism (supposedly true propositions whose negations are also supposedly true), in which Priest has one brief literature citation at the end. Here of course “dimwitism” has nothing to do with the ability to get posts in some non-science faculties where often postmodernists thrive, if truth doesn’t.

            Burgess is pretty hard on the more reputable parts of so-called relevantist logic as well, but is very fair in alerting readers to his long-standing reputation on that.

            If the less reputable part has a pope, he’s a Priest.

            I’m really getting off-topic here!

          3. If none of them are feminine, that just means the field is wide open for postmodernists to step into the gap!

    2. I’m hardly an expert in feminist academics, but pieces like that are not uncommon. Contemporary 3rd wave feminists bear little resemblance to the feminists of the women’s liberation movement. Those feminists were brave heroes that changed our society for the better. Whereas Sandra Harding referred to Newton’s Principia in her 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism as a rape manual.
      The Principia . . . a rape manual.

      1. I wonder if the Latin that Principia was written in is considered a rape language or at the very least, the language of the patriarchy. 😀

        1. Latin is gendered. Whether all of the words having to do with power are of the male gender does not seem to have been examined.

          1. But it also has a neuter – seems like the modern concept of fluid sexuality. 😀 Also, I don’t think all Latin nouns to do with power are masculine, for example auctōritās is feminine. Gender in language often doesn’t correspond to notions of gender as in sex.

          2. All true enough – I wasn’t being altogether serious anyway, just pointing out that Harding may have missed another reason for whacking the Principia around.
            However, there are a lot of gendered languages. This issue never seems to arise in postmodern discussions of hegemony etc., unless I’ve missed it.

          3. That one you can explain because diminutives (chen ending) are neuter so even though a maiden or young girl is female, the diminutive makes it neuter. What is weirder to me is der Junge and der Käse. How dare those feminine looking endings be secretly masculine!

          4. Yeah it’s a boy which makes sense with the “der” but it ends in an “e” like many feminine nouns which is all mixed message-y. 🙂

  3. This is exactly the kind of idiocy that makes me repeat at any chance I get that anti-feminism is the only possible position that a true scientist can adopt.

    Because feminism is a frontal attack against the very foundation of science.

    Unfortunately, there is a very clever linguistic trick that gets played here. When you say you are an anti-feminist, that is interpreted as being against the equality of women, even though what you are against is feminist theory and ideology, which is in its essence as anti-scientific as young earth creationism.

    But then when the equality of women is to be defended, that gets used to also sneak in the theory and ideology through the back door (and often, the front door too).

    It is perhaps worth pondering the uncomfortable question what do we do if we have to chose between the two (scientific epistemology and women’s rights). Which one is more valuable to humanity in the long-term?

    1. No, we don’t have to ponder for very long the stupid question, do we have to “choose between the two (scientific epistemology and women’s rights).

      The fact that some feminists (e.g. Laura Parson) do stupid things does not mean that equality for women and doing science are in conflict!

      1. Yep. These types of studies often take a good point or question and drive it to absurdity, but the good point is still there.

        This is probably because, in academia, you don’t make a name for yourself by confirming through rigorous study what everyone already expected to be true. That there is sexism in science is something everyone expects to be true. So there’s a strong temptation to try and find something more extreme to say, in order to garner attention.

    2. While I agree to an extent, I say that it is postmodernism, not feminism that is anti-scientific. I understand where you’re coming from. I identified as a feminist for over 20 years, but I can now no longer do that in good conscience. But not all of feminism is postmodern nonsense. There is nothing nonsensical about Betty Friedan, Susan B. Anthony or Christina Hoff Sommers. I agree that defending science can often mean criticizing feminism and I also agree that it is wrong, both ethically and factually, to equate criticism of feminism with misogyny. But, the choice between women’s rights and scientific epistemology is a false dichotomy.

      1. I fully agree it is a false dichotomy.

        I am not the one making the defense of women’s rights and the attack against science inseparable things. The rabid feminists are doing that.

        Personally I am most concerned about the long-term future of humanity. Science seems more important in that context…

        1. That doesn’t make any sense.

          You agree that it is a false dichotomy; but you going to embrace it anyway so that you can stick it to the “rabid” feminists. That’s not a particularly intelligent or scientific position.

          1. I makes perfect sense — I am the one trying to avoid the false dichotomy, but I have to deal with people who won’t listen to reason.

            In that situation, I am very much forced to deal with the false dichotomy as if it is real — because it is real in practice

    3. And am I supposed to just relinquish the word “feminism” to these crackpots, and have to create a new word for what feminism used to mean?

    4. ‘feminism is a frontal attack against the very foundation of science…’

      Can we simply not say that there are a number of foolish feminists? Certainly none of the feminists I know and respect would have any truck with this writer’s accusations and silly proposals. It really is wrong to brand a whole movement because of the behaviour of some who claim to belong to it.

      As for Parsons’ complaint about the ‘chilly language’ of what is prerequisite to a course, when giving literature courses here in Japan, I make it very clear in the course description that students who want to take the course need to have a high standard of English, and that students who are not willing to take an active part (as in reading texts aloud) should not join and, if they do, will probably be failed. It is a simple matter of courtesy to make it clear to students what is expected of them.

      1. Can we simply not say that there are a number of foolish feminists? Certainly none of the feminists I know and respect would have any truck with this writer’s accusations and silly proposals. It really is wrong to brand a whole movement because of the behaviour of some who claim to belong to it.

        But this is precisely the trap I was describing — the talk about women’s rights, which nobody can be against, is used as a vehicle for all of the other nonsense (note: that is not a conscious agenda, the other nonsense derives from the merge of the politics behind feminism with postmodernism).

        Given that in the West, where most of the science is, there is nothing to fight for in terms of women’s rights as they are fully equal to men, all we are left with is the attack against science and the postmodernist nonsense plus what is in essence an supremacy movement (if you already have equal rights but you still want more, then you in effect want more rights than others; there is no way around that, just as 2+2+1 is more than 2+2).

        1. Well, I am very glad that you show yourself able to discriminate. It is a pity you didn’t do it in the first place. As for women being ‘fully equal’ to men in the wonderful West, well, perhaps you might look at a few realities.

          1. Can you point me to some legislation that gives more rights to men than women?

            If you cannot, then women are fully equal.

          2. What a splendidly simplified world you seem to live in, little knock-down arguments at hand like knick-knacks on every shelf! I suggest you read, among other things, Jerry’s final paragraph.

    5. People have noticed this phenomenon.

      “I feel like every single term in social justice terminology has a totally unobjectionable and obviously important meaning – and then is actually used a completely different way.

      The closest analogy I can think of is those religious people who say “God is just another word for the order and beauty in the Universe” – and then later pray to God to smite their enemies. And if you criticize them for doing the latter, they say “But God just means there is order and beauty in the universe, surely you’re not objecting to that?””

      1. I was reading a radfem blog this morning, and apparently *this* is what feminism is actually about:

        But actually no, feminism is NOT about equality of the sexes; it is about women’s liberation. That is a common beginner’s mistake. If you deny birth control and abortion to both sexes, you are treating them both with “equality” technically, but 1 will be impacted much more than the other. That is why “equality” in a world designed around men as the default human does not work. Women need LIBERATION from oppression, not equality under an oppressive system.

        It isn’t particularly heartening to see so many people not embrace this definition of feminism. The equality nonsense ignores the systematic features of society (as you mentioned) and makes actually addressing the issues that women face, much more difficult.

        Given the widespread nature of this fundamental error one could conclude that this obfuscation is purposeful. :/

        So I would ask this woman what rights men currently enjoy that women do not.

        1. That feminist passage you quote is not entirely wrong.

          Originally feminism was about equality, which has been substantially achieved, at least in legal terms (in Western societies. Absolute equality is probably impossible because there will always be the fundamental difference that women can have children and men can’t; the apples and oranges will never be truly identical, so any practical legal system has to take that into account and hence will have some inequalities).

          But in practical terms, as opposed to legal, there are still differences. Women probably have the advantage over men when it comes to such as divorce settlements, custody questions and the payment of child support. In most other societal respects, particularly pay and employment, men still enjoy an advantage. (Those are sweeping generalisations to which thousands of exceptions undoubtedly exist).

          So there is some validity to the points made in the passage you quoted*, but they obviously do not (in my opinion) justify the more extravagant excesses of some of modern feminism.

          *Call them the ‘motte’ in the motte-and-bailey argument as well-explained in the article J Quinton linked to.


          1. I agree. The current scientific establishment keeps young scientists from completing their PhDs for many years, often until their mid-30s. This harms both sexes, but women are hurt way more, because of their much shorter reproductive spans.

  4. What utter nonsense.

    I’m sure some of those teachers teach the same courses listed as prerequisites, and would be delighted to help students in those classes master those subjects.

    How dare this snowflake think she can waste the time of all the students who have mastered the prerequisites by insisting that she be given inappropriate instruction in the prerequisites in the upper-level course.

    Let me guess: she must think that those “you must be this tall” signs at amusement parks are also racist and misogynist, and objects to having to pass the DMV exam before being granted a driver’s license. Hell, she probably objects to the requirement to have a driver’s license in the first place, and thinks that cars with their “stick shifts” and “tailpipes” and “controls” are paternalistically phallic to begin with.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as a feminist. My positions haven’t changed. I still support the ERA — and who else even remembers what that is? I’ve already voted for two different women for President in past elections, one of them Black, and will again be voting for a woman in this election. I just increasingly have a difficult time using that particular word to describe myself.



    1. “I just increasingly have a difficult time using that particular word to describe myself.”
      I know how you feel. I’m too young to have voted for Shirley Chisholm, but I’ve never had any kind of compunction with voting for a female candidate or having a female boss. (Working in education, most of my colleagues and all of my superiors are women in my current position.) A few years ago, I began to have a difficult time in referring to myself as a feminist. That was until I became a science teacher. Now, I find it functionally impossible.

  5. “instructor’s role to deposit static knowledge into students”

    Parson may have never taken a STEM class; perhaps she is exhibiting a special “women’s way of not knowing.”

    “inherently discriminatory to women and minorities”

    CalTech undegrad (and perhaps graduate) is more minority than white.
    “Wrong” minority(s), though.

    But according to google, most American inventors are black.

    “In addition, you are expected to have sufficiently mastered the material in Calculus I to be able to use it when needed.”

    The syllabus is for Calculus II.

    1. I LOL’d at the last one.

      This is looking more and more like the somewhat regular occurrence of a grad student trying to make a big splash out of a small finding.

    2. What’s up with the American inventors being predominantly black? Agenda?

      If I put American physicists I get the big guns as I should expect, albeit most of them were not born in America 😊

      1. I read an explanation that is has to do with black inventors being designated that way on many sites: “black inventor” rather than just “inventor”, which somehow skews the algorithm alphabetically. I have no idea if that’s correct – seems plausible.

        1. And apparently ‘black inventor’ ‘black ___’ is now considered to be *racist* by some, since no one says ‘white inventor’ and so on..

          So regressives will whine if you don’t point out the accomplishments of marginalized people, and they will whine if you do.

          I swear, it’s goddamn victimhood factory!

        2. I find this OK, because it allows those who wish to search specifically for black inventors to do it. Otherwise, the searcher should look for photos, which is Herculean task.

          At school, I had a classmate who claimed that no black had ever invented anything. I could not rebut him, for I knew no black inventor. (This was in prehistoric times before Internet and placental mammals evolved.)

      2. “most of them were not born in America” and slightly more of them were not born in the U.S., (I trust—e.g. if Lawrence Krauss is on the list!)

    1. I grew up in a time when my very feminist sister tried to show men she was their equal by competing: going to the same school, trying for the same jobs, playing the same sports, etc. Now a “modern” feminist, she sends her only daughter to an all-girls school. When I asked her why she said that girls’ development is “different” to that of boys, so sharing a school with them would “affect” her, and hinder her potential. I really don’t understand what has happened to feminism.

      1. I did read somewhere that some educational outcomes are better for girls in girls-only schools. However, according to the same research, outcomes for *boys* are *worse* in boys only schools.

        Assuming that holds up (and I don’t claim to know), then we’d have a problem.

          1. Classrooms with their requirement for kids to stand still for 30-45 minutes, listen and do what they are ordered are poorly suited for boys. Girls also have difficulty complying so much, but boys are natural born rebels. I have no solution, but a problem clearly exists.

          1. Most men prefer to urinate standing, which inevitably brings some dispersion.
            Women can use a bathroom in a very neat way if they trust it. However, if they do not believe that the seat is clean, they will avoid contact with it and will do come complex gymnastics. As a result, after such a lady, the seat will really be unclean, and overall the situation will be worse than after 20-30 guys.

    2. Feminusm nowadays is about proclaiming loudly how feminist one is while promoting gender segregated mosques and a virulent anti-women ideology, just see Justin Trudeau for a great example of that.

      1. It is not. I sometimes wonder how people who profess to be scientists or to have a consuming interest in it can be so pathetically un-scientific and prejudiced when they put a toe outside the disciplines they profess to respect.

  6. This post reminds me of how sad it is that so many women who major in the various aspects of gender studies have been deflected from entering rewarding, productive fields in which they could make true contributions to the welfare of all humanity.

  7. I think there’s a quarter truth here that has been extrapolated wayyy out of proportion.

    I think that in science intuition and critical/skeptical thinking work together, one to supply hypotheses and the other to test them.

    Carl Sagan in Demon-haunted World says that the good scientist must have two qualities that are somewhat in tension and conflict with each other, the willingness to seriously entertain wildly weird new ideas, and the willingness to rigorously test them.

    I would argue the first is a function of creative intuition. The great fictional rationalist, Sherlock Holmes, said that sometimes (emphasis added!!) “I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner”.

    I would propose that intuition is important to the first half of what Sagan considers important to science, and that women’s intuition works differently from men.

    However, in science, verifiability has the last word, and that IMO is gender-independent.

    [Sagan quotes:
    from Chapter 17 “at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly sceptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. ”
    From Chapter 2 “[Science[ urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything – new ideas and established wisdom.” ]

  8. I don’t know, that just seems like a description of a mid to high level mathematics course with an emphasis on knowing the foundation material before embarking on this particular math adventure. Don’t liberal arts classes also have prerequisites which you’re expected to meet before signing up too? I know fine arts does. And since when are women not competitive?

      1. Ha ha! Math does trigger me. I get all freaked out. Once a professor started speaking in math speak during a course and I started freaking out (not making a scene just freaking out).

        1. Lots of people do. You have to understand the language. If I took a course and the instructor started speaking in Kiswahili and I was expected to understand it, I would freak out as well.

      2. A course I saw back in art school actually had something of a trigger warning in the catalog description. It was called Three Big Books, and over the 16 week course you had to read Ulysses, Le Mort d’Arthur (I think), and War and Peace. There was a note to not take the class if you did not like reading and were unsure if you could handle the amount required. I don’t remember if there were any prerequisites for the class.

  9. Parson: “an impression of extremely difficult courses, which constitute a chilly climate in STEM courses, and would be prohibitive for … women and minorities.”

    Parsons is a bigot. She assumes women and minorities cannot handle difficult courses.

  10. Female/male brains –
    Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic
    “Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain.”

      1. “When many personality traits were considered simultaneously, <A HREF="“>there was only a 10% overlap between the distributions of these traits in men and women. Essentially, the study suggests that when it comes to personality men and women belong to two different species[sic].”

        Original paper:
        “The idea that there are only minor differences between the personality profiles of males and females should be rejected as based on inadequate methodology.”

  11. …an ideologically-freighted exercise in confirmation bias, for she already knows what she wants to find: male views conditioning the way science is done


    My guess is this is somewhat true. Big institutional decisions such as how we decide science budgets, what grant reviews look like, how the publication industry is run, etc… were pretty much all made by men, decades ago. Had those decisions been made by women or by mixed groups, those institutional practices might have turned out differently. But there is no logical connection between “men decided on a pay-per-page structure where perhaps women would’ve chosen some other payment structure” and “the law of gravity is just male perspective”

    [from Parsons] the language used to discuss the prerequisites indicated that students who had not learned or did not remember that knowledge would be unsuccessful because there was not support within the course or from the instructor. The language used in this corpus of syllabi created an impression of extremely difficult courses, which contributes to the chilly climate in STEM courses, and would be prohibitive for those not confident in those areas, such as women and minorities.

    This seems to me a social problem that has nothing to do with how syllabi are written. If society’s racism or sexism inflicts an unjustified lack of confidence on women and minorities, then that’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Changing some words on a HS course syllabus is probably too little too late. And, just to repeat the bigger point, you can’t logically get from “messaging to students needs to be more supporting” to “the law of gravity is subjective.”

  12. Don’t know if readers are aware of this book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” featured recently on NPR

    Black female mathematicians, who attended racially segregated schools, perhaps some even went to black women’s schools, but I wonder how they learned their math? They damned sure had some good math teachers, and I’d wager that their instruction was rigorous. I shudder to think how their educational experiences would have been corrupted by the kind of culture and gender appropriate pedagogy demanded by the PC police today. In fact, back in the day, it was the the white governing class insisting that African Americans receive a “culturally appropriate” education that forced some black colleges to abandon their academic curriculum and become industrial schools. Whether re gender or race/ethnicity, all of this focus on different ways of knowing and being culturally appropriate is regressive bullshit.

  13. STEM has a real problem with advancing representation of women and certain minorities. This kind of critique has absolutely nothing to do with the real reasons for that problem. It also offers no contructive solutions for improving the situation. This author doesn’t even comprehend that almost no students even read the damn syllabus. Honestly, they can’t tell us how to fix a field when they know nothing about it. Changing language and eliminating grades won’t alter the social environment that relentlessly encourages women to drop out.

    It really bothers me when we are investing so much effort to fix a real problem and the alleged experts on gender keep interjecting with nonsense critiques that have nothing to do with the underlying issues. It’s the same story with things like trigger warnings; activists keep pushing them as a solution for suicidal behavior, but the fields where trigger warnings could be used do not typically have high suicide rates. Engineering has a skyrocketing suicide rate and it can’t possibly have anything to do with “triggers.” I really wish all these postmodern and psychoanalytical theorists would stop clogging the discourse with gibberish that can’t possibly help.

    1. Exactly: as many philosophers (S. Haack and N. Koertge, for example, to pick two who, if it matters, are women) and others have pointed out, criticism of sexism in the *discipline* of physics (or whatever) has nothing to do with the *content* or even the methodology of science. These three are run together – the usual “pomo” blather “defends” the conflation, but …

      S. Harding seems to have been one of the originators of this … (paraphrased) “objectivity is masculine, and so science is sexist and so we should invent other ways that are female friendly, etc.”

      She herself seems to be misandrist, given what I can tell how her talk at UBC in 2000 went. However, gossip aside, in 1986 she published a book which claimed that Newton’s laws (presumably their statement, not the putative patterns) are a rape manual. Since she disclaims truth (at that point in her career), I suppose she can claim “illuminating and honest” is also meant not be literal, but that IS how it is described.

      What an insult to the *species*!

      Keller’s “feeling for the organism” analysis is less insulting, just likely as wrongheaded for other reasons: one has to deal with the unfortunate fact that McClintock herself found it ridiculous. Instead, apparently, she just found herself doing *better science*. Not something new.

      1. The idea is very old, that logic and objectivity are “male” attributes which serve the interests of patriarchy. The premise is rooted in ideas of gender difference that are now typically rejected by feminists and seen as sexist, yet the critique survives thanks to layers of obfuscation in postmodern theory.

          1. I have a colleague from Belarus who tells me that, where she comes from, it is generally assumed that math and logic are women’s subjects since men don’t have the calm temperament, patience or attention span for it. Trump and Clinton seem to fulfill that stereotype.

  14. The thing that I dislike most about the article reviewed here is that the “feminist” point of view seems to be that the way men and women think is fundamentally different! This doesn’t seem true to me, but it is sexist.

    And some of the things . . . I guess it is “chilly” to say that Calculus II requires mastery of Calculus I, but this is a problem??

    1. Insane and patronizing. I suppose one is supposed to start with arithmetic in the Calculus II course?? The emphasis must be on encouraging girls and women in the notion that they can do every bit as well as the boys from a very early age. I had quite a bit of success in this in my HS Math and CS classes. Female role models do help, as well as male teachers sensitive to the issues.

      Someone mentioned all-girls schools earlier ( or maybe later..). I suspect that all-girl classrooms can allow less assertive girls to avoid being talked over by more assertive boys. However, when they reach “the real world” they will still have to deal with those pesky boys-lol.

  15. Sometimes a female point of view is helpful to correct male biases in research. My favorite is the case is one where male researchers had already figured out almost everything about baboon society, and sent female grad students to see if they could learn some interesting tidbit about the females. They found lots of things, and overturned the men’s assumption that for male baboons, more dominance = more sex = more fitness. (Actually, more dominance = somewhat more sex, but subordinate males who befriend and help females also get more sex.)

      1. Absolutely true! But different points of view (male/female, different cultures) often help us get out of our unrecognized cultural ruts and do better science.

        This is NOT saying that there are different male/female kinds of science!

  16. My mother used to say that she was a “feminist” before there were feminists.
    She could do any work whether classified as “women’s” work or “men’s” work, and did both. She worked as a farm laborer not only doing weeding, hoeing and harvesting, but driving farm equipment. She worked as a domestic: housekeeper, cook, seamstress, caregiver. She was a butcher and an egg candler. During WWII, she worked in a shipyard as a welder. She could look at any garment and make a pattern from which she could make the garment. She worked as a bookkeeper. She could reupholster furniture. She and my Dad built their house together, nail for nail. If my mother had been able to obtain more education, I think she could have done absolutely anything. And, I don’t think this is gender-specific.

    I don’t agree that STEM is “gendered”. I don’t think that intuition is “gendered”. I think that both are required to achieve in STEM by any truly talented individual of whatever sex.

  17. The thing that bothers me the most about this whole premise is the assumption that women are not competitive or don’t like being in competitive jobs. I like working hard, solving difficult problems and yes, competing. Just because I like those things doesn’t mean I’m cut-throat – it means I’m assertive and directed and to suggest women aren’t is a huge insult to all women and completely inaccurate if you know about what it’s like to be a woman.

      1. Funny you should say that as my manager, who is not very good with words, described the behaviour of a few males toward me as “emasculating” so ever since, I’ve been making a joke that I must be a man. I’ve worked this in casually in conversations like, “when I was a young man”. 🙂

    1. Yes, but I wanted a woman to say that! It seems to me that the idea that we need to structure science so things aren’t portrayed as difficult or competitive is anti-feminist in that it assumes women are not strong people.

    1. Me too. Phrases such as “feminist critical discourse” and “stance and interdiscursivity” signal “worthless bollocks”, I’m afraid. The bullet points from Bowling and Martin are wilful distortions, amounting to systematic lying. Enough of this sort of thing!

  18. Critical discourse analysis is a popular “soft” option for students working in some areas of linguistic analysis because it doesn’t require dealing with quantitative analysis or statistics or symbolic analysis or reasoning. I have seen some CDA done well, but mostly it’s sloppy and tendentious, prone to confirmation bias and based on very small amounts of data.

  19. Even if scientists did think knowledge was static, why would static knowledge be a masculine concept? Will gravity not cause women to fall to their death if they step off the 50th floor balcony? Or is it just that women can’t say they know this is an unchanging fact?

  20. 3rd wave feminists have a hard time recognizing the problem when the shoe is on the other foot. Why is it a crisis that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, yet no one anywhere, that I know of, is making any kind of argument that men are underrepresented in primary education? I realize STEM covers a lot of ground, but take a look at the sheer number of primary teaching jobs that need to be filled and you’ll quickly realize we’re talking in terms of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
    Would it not be a good thing to provide positive role-models (role-models that buck gender stereotypes BTW) for our youngest students? How is reinforcing the stereotype that teaching is a woman’s job improving gender equity?
    I’m sure that there are corners of STEM that are unwelcoming go women, but I’ve witnessed veteran female educators tell male teachers that they can’t teach anything below 5th grade because they’re men and it’s wrong for men to teach students that young. No further explanation needed.
    Ask yourself what’s a stronger deterrent to entering a given field, insensitive syllabi or having most of the people you meet assume your a pedophile when they find out what you do for a living?

  21. I haven’t had time to read the comments yet, sorry if this has already been addressed. My question for the “feminist academics” who believe this stuff. Do transwomen have the ability to “know things” in a woman’s way of knowing? What about transmen?
    Also, Parson writes, ” The language used in this corpus of syllabi created an impression of extremely difficult courses, which contributes to the chilly climate in STEM courses, and would be prohibitive for those not confident in those areas, such as women and minorities.” Why does she think women and minorities would consider themselves “prohibited” from extremely difficult courses? That sounds pretty sexist/racist to me.

    1. “Why does she think women and minorities would consider themselves “prohibited” from extremely difficult courses?”

      Because girls and blacks are stupid, of course. Gosh even Donald Trump could figure that out.

      (Do I need to say ‘[/sarcasm]’ ? )


    1. Exactly – this is one of the fundamental reasons I fight subjectivism in all its forms. It makes nonsense of the notions of oppression, violence, etc.

      I once had a conversation like:

      R: But truth is so oppressive a notion. My people were abused because they refused “truth” told to them.
      K: Your people were abused because racist bigots didn’t understand that one should persuade, not beat. Besides, the truth is “simply” a property of propositions.
      R: I’m not sure …
      K: Did you get beaten when you refused your milk?
      R: Yes …
      K: Then “R. got beaten when she refused her milk.” is true.
      R: Oh …

  22. Wow. That’s some offensive stuff right there:

    “The language used in this corpus of syllabi created an impression of extremely difficult courses, which contributes to the chilly climate in STEM courses, and would be prohibitive for those not confident in those areas, such as women and minorities.”

    I cannot imagine the shitstorm that would arise if anyone else were to venture, as this woman does, that difficult academic courses are ‘prohibitive’ for ‘women and minorities’.

    (And as far as I can tell, the word “chilly” is uses simply as a euphemism for ‘difficult’.)

    Do these academics never take a step back and consider what it says about their worldview when they say stuff like this? The implication that ‘women and minorities’ are uniquely incapable of intellectual rigor, and will quail in the face of equations and graphs? How much good can beliefs of this kind ever do for women in STEM subjects? I don’t know anyone who’d even dream of suggesting that women and minorities just can’t deal with scientific subjects – it’s mindboggling that the only people in academia who are still willing to come out with this 19th century bollocks are feminists.

    Finally, when you break it down the overarching idea implicit in this paper is that the academic world should be radically dumbed down in case stupid people should ever be put off by higher education.
    I hate to be blunt, but isn’t that the point of higher education?

  23. The idea that there is a special “woman’s way of knowing” seems to me to be some sort of reverse sexism. As if women, by virtue of being female, possess some special knowledge that men don’t. No evidence for this kind of notion has, of course, been presented. Also, just because high standards in math are demanded in a course, Parson assumes that this is meant to keep the girls out. She is assuming that women are less capable than men at doing math. If anything, she is only reinforcing the sexist idea that women cannot do math and science, and also cannot handle competition. By proposing a “feminist” alternative to objective reality, she is actually doing more harm than good to women who seek a career in STEM.

    I also think it’s wrong to talk about “Western” medicine, as if medicine were a culture-specific thing. Medicine is only science applied to the subject of human and animal health, and there are medical professionals in the Eastern hemisphere as well. Although it’s probably true (I don’t have the stats, and would be grateful to anyone who could share the relevant data) that more good quality research in the field is done in the West than in the East, that doesn’t mean medicine is a Western thing, just like science isn’t a male thing.

    1. Sandra Harding used to *explicitly* say that women had other talents that should be used instead of objectivity and other values other than truth, etc. etc. She allowed that “female men” (her phrase) might also be able to contribute to this underdescribed enterprise.

  24. Apologies if someone has already raised this point, but there’s a really simple refutation of subjectivism that comes from Thomas Nagel. He points out that the postmodern mantra “Everything is subjective” is actually self-contradictory–by saying that everything is subjective you are in fact making an objective claim about the world. Moreover, if we accept the claim that “everything is subjective”, then that claim would apply to itself, meaning that it is also subjective and hence has no claim to being true.

    1. Unfortunately, the one-line refutation can get people to simply go nuclear, as the saying goes. You’ll get an answer like “well, the concern about contradictions is so [some nasty name here]”

      (nasty, e.g., “phallocentric”, “masculinist”, “colonial”, etc.)

      1. Indeed. Some postmodernists go so far as to dismiss reason itself as a social construction. But there’s an easy refutation of that too– you can’t question reason, because, as Nagel also notes, there is no place to stand where we can formulate or think it without immediately contradicting ourselves by relying on it.
        If you question reason you must also question the conclusions that you draw through reasoning, including the conclusion that reasoning is suspect! As you see, this essentially leaves you with no capacity to think anything.

  25. I’ve heard variations of the “science is just, like, your opinion, man” claim leveled before, always by humanities studies majors, but never one that included math!
    How does that even possible to claim out loud with out producing giggling?

  26. “Is the idea of objective knowledge sexist? Is there a “woman’s way of knowing”?”

    Unfortunately the only rational conclusion from that headline is that men (sexist beasts) are in touch with reality and women don’t have a clue.

    I’m sure Ms Parson doesn’t see it that way though.

    I hasten to add that I regard both those questions as absurd so the conclusion is invalid.


  27. this reminded me of a video that was emailed to me some time ago

    I don’t know enough history to comment on “many of the founders of feminism were turn of the century spiritualists”

    1. “many of the founders of feminism were turn of the century spiritualists” is correct (*), and some were also Prohibitionists.

      However, saying that thereby makes feminism (of any kind) thereby not secular is an instance of the genetic fallacy, as no link that I know of exists between the two. (An additional argument is needed.)

      (*) Though, some prominent 19th century ones were *not*, as it happens. (So the argument would cut both ways.) Since the early 20th century was in a way less secular in general than the 19th, that doesn’t strike me as so surprising.

  28. Once a person abandons things like “critical thinking” and, “evidence”, the trip is started down that slippery slope to its inevitable end: “ALL ideas are equally valid.”

  29. These sorts of academics are an insult to women and do nothing but discredit feminism (and generally be a pain in the butt to both sexes). Foucault or Derrida or one of those originally argued some tosh about the concept of objectivity dominating the subject and objective certainty being nothing more than a colonial framing of things. Language is infinitely subjective, manipulated by the powerful and conveys no real truth (so why bother to speak at all)
    The best truth we can get is to seek out the (normally suppressed) stories of those who are oppressed or marginalised (or deemed to be so by the regressive part of the left by dint of being non European or poor, female, LGBT etc. so long as they are also seen to be anti West)

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